The Coke-Funded Nonprofit That Pushed Exercise Over Diet Is No More

The Global Energy Balance Network, which has been at the center of Coca-Cola’s funding scandal, has closed.
(Photo: Flickr)
Dec 1, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Just shy of four months after The New York Times revealed its questionable financial relationship with Coca-Cola, the antiobesity group Global Energy Balance Network has folded. In a statement posted on its website Tuesday evening, the group, which promoted exercise as a solution to obesity, said it “is discontinuing operations due to resource limitations.”

Last month, the University of Colorado—where Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist and GEBN cofounder, is on the faculty—returned $1 million it had received from Coca-Cola to start the organization. In total, Coke gave $1.5 million to the nonprofit.

In the wake of the scandal over the multinational company’s involvement with GEBN and other groups that promoted exercise over diet to curb weight-related public-health problems, Coke disclosed that it has spent $120 million to support organizations, medical researchers, and others who helped to dissuade the perception that soda is unhealthy.

While GEBN claims the loss of funding caused it to close, critics argue that its controversial relationship with Coke brought about its end.

“I think ultimately the Global Energy Balance Network was a megaphone for Coca-Cola,” Yoni Freedhoff, who studies obesity at the University of Ottawa, told the Times. “And now that Coca-Cola is no longer providing the funds to support that megaphone, it’s shutting down. I think that speaks to the purpose of the establishment of this group.”

In addition to the $1.5 million in grants Coke gave GEBN—the other $500,000 went to the University of South Carolina—the nonprofit also maintained an uncomfortably close relationship with the beverage giant, as emails published by The Associated Press last week revealed.

“I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in peoples’ lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them,” James Hill, GEBN’s president, wrote to a Coke exec in one of the emails obtained by the AP.

That plan, it would appear, has completely backfired.